It’s a topic many find difficult to bring up, but one that could save lives.
Talking about mental health is so important, a team of veterans is preparing to row a boat 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to help raise awareness for some of the issues veterans face.
"I really feel like it’s incumbent upon me and others who have been through those things to break down the stereotypes, break down the taboo and be open and honest about out experiences," said Evan Stratton, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. "I can’t sit down and talk to every individual going through a tough time. What I can do is go row an ocean and say, 'Hey, you’ve got to leave the safe harbor. Whatever ocean it is, whether it’s personal, you’ve got to get out and do it.'"
For the next two months, Stratton and the rest of the "Fight Oar Die" team will row from the Canary Islands in Spain across the Atlantic Ocean to Antigua. Their mission is bigger than just finishing one of the hardest races on the planet.
"What we’re out to do is show you that you can push through and you can beat the storms and you can keep rowing," said Stratton. "I had a traumatic brain injury, I had reintegration challenges and I also lost my best friend. I dealt a lot with PTSD. When you leave the military, a lot of veterans are losing their security. They’re losing a pay check. They’re losing a brotherhood."
The team is competing in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge – one of the hardest races on the planet.
"It’s kind of like climbing Mt. Everest or going to space. You always think, if you had the chance to do it, would you?" said Stratton. "Teams of up to five get inside of a row boat and row 3,000 miles, from the Canary Islands to Antigua."
The Fight Oar Die team is working with doctoral students at the University of Denver to learn how to cope with being in a small boat, sleeping in two hour intervals and rowing for two months.
"It’s super difficult," said Ethan Bannar, a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at DU. "I would argue that this row overall is more of a mental game than a it is a physical game. When the physical becomes hard, the mental game can kick in and they can stay focused on the task at hand."
Bannar is helping the team learn everything from ways to keep themselves entertained on the water to problem solving as a group.
"I don’t think that there is a prepared rower for rowing the Atlantic. I don’t know if anyone know what that looks like," said Bannar. "Cognitively and mentally, this is probably the most challenging thing that these rowers will face in their entire lives."
Psychologists at the University of Denver will continue to do research on how the physical challenges and the solitude of the rowing impacts the veterans.
They say beyond raising awareness for mental health issues, the research will help them understand how our bodies deal with challenges like this.
You can follow along with the teams journey here.
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